CHENNAI: Earlier in 2017, when Ariharan T bagged the winning title of Ezham Arivu, a first-of-its-kind science reality show, little did he know that he would go on to make a mammoth difference in the pandemic-ridden world. “As a class 11 student, I became a part of Agni Foundation’s Ignite India initiative, a socio-economic movement focusing on innovation and technology.
After proving my mettle in the initiative’s innovation competition, I was eventually selected as one of the 60 finalists for the TV show — Ezham Arivu. During the period of the show, a novel concept of rewarding the best participants with drone-led chocolate showers was introduced and I received these celebratory drone showers quite often,” recounts the final year engineering student at Agni College of Technology, and a student drone pilot at Garuda Aerospace Pvt Limited, a start-up that was founded four years ago on the steps of the reality show.
Cut to the present, Ariharan is one among the 40-odd in-house pilots who have been deployed by Drone-as-a- Service (DAAS) provider, Garuda Aerospace to contain the coronavirus spread and combat the locust attacks across the country. “After the lockdown was announced, my father drove all the way from Paramakudi to Chennai and took me home. But within three days, Garuda Aerospace started receiving orders — both government and private — to deploy drones to sanitise and disinfect COVID- prone areas and spray anti-locust pesticides in different cities. I was called back to our facility in Chennai, which is incubated at Agni College of Technology.
Without thinking twice, I packed my bags and reached the city after obtaining the required permission. After over 300 hours of simulation training (apart from previous training), I was ready to pilot the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the sanitisation and locust operations,” shares Ariharan, adding that despite the health risks involved, he is proud to contribute to the country. “I am happy to be a frontline worker during such a trying time,” he adds.
Over the last three months, the company, the brain-child of Agnishwar Jayaprakash, has been disinfecting public areas, including bus stands, metro stations, markets, factories, government and private office spaces, airports, schools and colleges in eight states and 26 cities. “The drones can accomplish sanitisation operations in lesser time, which otherwise would take public health and sanitation workers days to accomplish with the added danger of health risks,” explains Agnishwar, who has been leading a team of 45-full-time pilots and 300-odd contract-based pilots.
“When there was an increase in the demand for drones and pilots, we launched a drone-aggregator app called Garuda that aggregates providers and offers various drone-related services, including spraying disinfectants,” he explains. The drones, aptly named Corona Killer 100 (CK100), can cover 20 km in a day. “It can function up to 12 hours a day. What makes our drones unique is its MIT-patented flexible nozzles which allow uniform spraying. The speed can be calibrated according to the purpose and speed of spraying up is at around 1.6mts/second,” he details.
The start-up has so far received government work orders from Smart City Municipal Corporations of Varanasi, Raipur, Bhopal, Rourkela and Municipal Corporation in Chandigarh; from Nuzvid, Jaggayyapeta, Nandikotkur, Kurnool, in Andhra Pradesh; Waddepally, Nirmal and Suryapet in Telangana, and worked for the Tamil Nadu Electricity Department’s sanitation operations. Several private companies have signed contracts for conducting disinfecting operations too. “In the last 30-45 days, the areas that were sanitised have been assessed and papers by researchers have been published in academic journals about how the number of cases have been contained in said areas,” he says, adding that the drones have a payload capacity of 15-20 litres and ceiling height of 450 feet, sufficient to disinfect most imposing buildings across the country.
The company has also extended its services to contain and help farmers in their fight against the unprecedented locust attacks in parts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Noida and other parts of north India. “We are at a point where there’s a certain realisation about the importance of food. Especially when most people are surviving only on essentials. At such a point, if the agriculture belt and food production are hit, it will lead to a series of other cataclysmic events. We have been able to avert this to a certain extent through the locust control measures we have been undertaking,” he shares.
The drones follow two methods — one, wherein the pesticides are directly sprayed over the locust swarms and the other, by spraying pesticides on the areas where the locusts are expected to land. “The government agencies track the flight path of the locust and inform us and we pick it from there. This is the first time drones are being used for this purpose. The pesticides sprayed are organic. It helps kill locusts and rejuvenate soil nutrients,” he shares. Known for its agricultural drones and UAVs that were designed to avoid human-animal conflicts, security, delivery, and surveillance, among other services, the current sanitisation and anti-locust operations were a sudden transition but one that the company was prepared for, says the entrepreneur.
“These are such unprecedented scenarios. But we have always been prepared to take up any tasks that may come our way. For the last four years, the drones have been tried and tested, and our students and pilots have been trained to manoeuvre the drones in different settings. It’s been a surreal experience to be one of the few drone companies to be working at this point. The support we have been receiving from the government to execute these operations has been immense” he shares.
In recognition of Garuda’s work in the time of a global crisis, Agnishwar was recently conferred with the
Global Humanitarian Award by World Humanitarian Drive (WHD), a UK-based organisation. “Awards and recognitions are like milestones that serve as a timely reminder of the path that I have chosen and the journey that awaits. There is still so much to be done and my credit goes out to pilots and students of Agni College of Technology for creating such an impact,” he shares.
OTHER COVID-19 INNOVATIONS
- Enthiran, a robotic nurse, has been developed to help medical professionals to serve food and medicines to those affected by the virus in quarantine facilities. It’s currently used at Royal Mother Hospital, Ashok Nagar.
- Vaayu, a bio-chamber, has been built on air-velocity-based technology, so there is no spraying of chemicals but is completely air dynamics-based. This has been created, designed and developed by Dr Mahesh and the students and professors of Agni College.
- Bio-neem products: Herbal steamer to cleanse respiratory systems and hand cream to limit touch-based transmission